29 September 2006

The Name Game

My grandmother has a unique way of talking, and it has gotten more unique the older she gets. Some of it isn't so special: she rarely asks legitimate questions, instead immediately answering whatever question she asks as though she had been asked it. And she doesn't listen but just monologues until she arbitrarily decides it's your turn and then sits in silence until you come up with something. She has only lately taken up the stereotypical elderly conversation topic of illness and ubiquitous symptoms.

So what's especially unique about her way of speaking? She often says peculiar words, replacing legitimate ones with wrong ones (she rarely calls my husband "Micah" but instead "Mike," "Michael," "Mack," or our personal but infrequently used favorite, "Malcolm"). She often uses rather prejudiced language about her African-American neighbors and friends, calling them "her blacks" and saying things like "She sure is nice, if she is black." She has that unmistakable dialect, in rhythm and word choice and philosophy, of her homeland—Comanche, Texas.

She refers to unhealthy 50- or 60-year-olds as "old" (she just turned 91). When you ask her what she's been doing, she says "First one thing and another." She can articulate a treatise on how one should stop loads of laundry before the third rinse cycle to save the water. She often answers the phone with a mouthful of toothpaste because she can't bear to not answer the phone when it rings. She worries about everything all of the time, but she especially likes to discuss her worry about the phone company jilting her by putting her on a party line rather than a private line like she pays for. She also likes to iterate her concern about neighborhood kids stealing her mail or breaking into her garage.

Last night, our conversation eventually circled around to the subject of naming our baby—her first great-grandchild, whether she likes it or not. Here's the rough transcript:

Grandma: I think I'll have some that stew I made yesterday for dinner. Warm up some cornbread later. I'm not hungry now, though—haven't been hungry since yesterday. So, you thought up names for that baby? [It takes me a while to answer this question because she has so quickly shifted topics and because I'm waiting to make sure this she is legitimately asking a question.]

Me: We're coming up with lists. It's hard to decide. [This is the only time throughout the 49-minute conversation that I will say two sentences in a row.]

Grandma: If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't name your daddy.

Me: I don't think they let you leave without a name. [Of course, I don't know if this is true, but how else do you respond to such a comment?]

Grandma: Some of those names have been around a long time, you know. Names are old.

Me: Yeah. [I don't really know what she's talking about. This is just a filler.]

Grandma: Some names coming back now, they've been around. Like mine. [Her name is Esther.] At least I know who I's named after. My mother named me after my Aunt Ethel. [Again, her name is Esther. My goodness.] You hear that noise?

Me: What? No.

She asked me constantly throughout our conversation if I had heard "that noise," which I rarely did. She claimed her air conditioner was acting up, would probably break soon, just like her plumbing—which, notably, did not break but was quickly fixed by a kind repairman and the subsequent MacGyver-work of a neighbor. She claimed she needed to call the phone company because she pays for a private line, not a party line. She claimed that I was washing pots and pans. The only part that seemed true or relevant was that her air conditioner might have come on.

We never returned to the topic of names.

21 September 2006

Man Powers

My lovely husband gave me a Lampe Berger for my birthday. Instead of wrapping it, he took it out of the box and placed it in the living room, like hide-and-go-seek. I found it disappointingly (for him) fast amid the three stylized figurines of dancing Japanese women on the mantle. Because the lamp too is made of a matte black ceramic, it goes with the women, but it makes them look like witches about a cauldron, so I'll eventually have to move it.

The instructions say you fill the lamp halfway with oil, but how do you know when it is, in fact, half full? Micah suggested we use a toothpick as a sort of measuring stick. Reasonable. And here begins our story. . . .

He retrieves the toothpicks, which are stored just behind a couple of spices in the cabinet. (This morning, I found the toothpick box on the rolling island across the kitchen from that cabinet, and the spices stood stoically on the counter just beneath the cabinet where they belong. Of course.)

I watch the man at work: he inserts a toothpick into the Lampe Berger and realizes it is not long enough for our purposes but not before he drops it into the lamp itself. Then he upturns the lamp and shakes it, but of course the toothpick will only hit the hole horizontally and will never come out using this method. Reminds me of how, when I was little, we would get foreign objects stuck in our violins: the only way to get such stuff out is through the F-holes, but earth physics don't help you do that.

When I mock the futility of his efforts, Micah puts the Lampe Berger back on the coffeetable and goes back to the kitchen. He returns with more toothpicks and blue packing tape, which he proceeds to combine into two chopstick-like implements composed of two toothpicks each, taped around the middle. And he weilds those two double-long sticks inside the lamp, trying to grab the lost toothpick.

While I am overcome on the couch, watching this spectacle, suggesting he should just leave the thing in there, Micah claims this is part of his Man Powers. That he cannot simply ignore the errant toothpick. That his blue-tape craftiness is a special element of his manhood. That he must do this, even if it makes me laugh and doesn't work.

Then, when it becomes obvious that even if he could pick up the toothpick this way, he could not actually extract it with these tools, he looks up at me brightly: "I need some gum."

Now, I don't care whose daughter I am. It doesn't matter that I have a nurtured repulsion toward throwing gum out of car windows. It doesn't matter that one of the first things I remember learning from my dad is that lighter fluid, though a dangerous explosive, is a fantastic tool at getting gum off of shoes.

Of course, I refuse to let him put chewing gum inside of my brand new Lampe Berger, instead suggesting again that we just leave it there. After much unscientific speculation as to whether or not that is safe, we do indeed leave it, Micah puts oil in the lamp, and a few minutes later our house smells like New Orleans. Really, like fruity cinnamon; the flavor name is "New Orleans," which suggests something more like drunkenness and bacteria to me, but whatever.

Moral of the story: I guess it's safe to leave toothpicks in aromatic oil lamps. Oh, and man powers are more funny than effective.

11 September 2006

Slugs in Love

One morning last week, Micah claimed he was leaving for work but immediately returned, begging me to come outside. Since as I was still in my pajamas, eating yogurt and cereal in front of "The Cosby Show," I was less than in inclined, but he insisted, saying I had to see this.

And that, to the left, is what I sawhanging from our city-provided trash can. Well, our slugs were more beautifully entwined, more tightly and therefore in a more aesthetically pleasing geometry.

This morning, I finally learned about it: indeed, as we had guessed, we had the rare privilege of spotting leopard slugs who had chosen our trash can for their odd aerial mating ritual. Even as we stood watching them, we could see the blue transluscent business moving.

If you want a readable scientific explanation for what's happening, see this page and prepare to be glad, with me, that we didn't see apophallation. If you want a more picture-book approach, check out this page, from which the photo above came. Too bad the rechargeable batteries in our camera needed recharging; otherwise, I'd be able to post my own photo here.

09 September 2006

One More

Now it's Poetry Southeast making the fourth accepted poem since the bean took up residence in my belly. Let's hope that the poems currently out there return accepted too . . . just to gather nine acceptances in nine months of bean gestation.

Specifics: the online magazine's editor (a fellow UF MFA who was only a year ahead of me in the program) has accepted "Attendant Alterations," a poem about buying and then altering my bridesmaid's dress for April Palmer's wedding. I've always liked that one.

In other news, nesting continues: today it focused on my desk and all the various notes and books that have collected around it. So, there's more paper being thrown away than I care to count, much to the planet's chagrin. I think the intensity of the nesting may be directly disproportionate to the weirdness of my dreams: one night I'm able to float in mid-air by doing a water-wading motion, and the next day I'm eager to get out of the house and watch a movie, but the next night I sleep soundly for an amazing 10 hours with no dreams and then fill the next day with all kinds of cleaning.